Friday, December 31, 2010

Remembering 2010: Odyssey Two

Happy New Year!

The end of the year is a good time to remember 2010: ODYSSEY TWO. Arthur Clarke's sequel novel to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was published in January 1982, having already been snapped up by MGM for a movie. As we would expect from Clarke, the novel is full of cool sci fi innovations. We witness a spacecraft aerobrake into Jupiter orbit, a scientifically plausible sidetrip to Europa including life forms, and the planet Jupiter transformed into something wonderful. The film directed by Peter Hyams was released in 1984. While not a classic like Kubrick's 2001, the movie is still very entertaining as a harbinger of what may await us in the Solar System.

Many people decry that we have not reached the spacefaring heights of Clarke's fictional future. However, our Space probes have not done too badly. Today machines have orbited both Jupiter and Saturn. The 2001 movie Discovery ended up orbiting Jupiter; in the novel Jupiter was used for a gravitational boost to reach Saturn. In 2001 HAL the computer intended to continue Discovery's mission without humans aboard. Many of the wonders that might have been found by the fictional Discovery have been seen through automated eyes.

Despite limited resources, science has made many discoveries. Signs of extraterrestrial life may have been found in a Martian meteorite. Cassini at Saturn has found geysers on Enceladus and made many discoveries about the Rings. While we have not found monoliths on the Moon, an anomaly in the lunar orbital evolution is striking evidence for a changing speed of light. The Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment left behind by astronauts may Lack of resources has led scientists to use their ingenuity.

In both 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and 2010: ODYSSEY TWO the Soviet Union is still a major power, and the Cold War is raging. During 2010 East and West nearly come to blows over a Central American crisis. Nuclear war was a great concern in 1984, so the filmmakers added a peaceful message. We should be thankful to have lived beyond the Cold War.

One way we have improved on 2001's universe is in the role of women. In 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY the only American women seen in Space are flight attendants and receptionists. A pair of Russian woman scientists make a cameo appearance in the Space Station lounge. In 2010: ODYSSEY TWO the Russian spacecraft has at least two women in the crew. One young woman provides some company to Heywood Floyd during the frightening aerobraking sequence. The Russian crew is led by the incomparable Helen Mirren (THE QUEEN, PRIME SUSPECT). In this alternate universe Russian women are leading in Space.

As of reality's 2010 only three Russian women have visited orbit: Valentina Tereshkova (1963), Svetlana Savitskaya (1982) and Yelena Kondakova (two flights, 1994-5 and 1997). The US, in contrast, has produced many woman astronauts. We have met female pilots and Shuttle commanders like Eileen Collins and Pam Melroy. Today NASA's astronaut office is headed by Peggy Whitson. America women have taken leadership positions in Space.

The role of Russian women in 2010 was a reflection of optimism. The Soviet Union had scored propaganda points by putting Tereshkova and Savitskaya ahead of American Sally Ride. Press stories promised women a future in the Soviet system that never materialized. Hopefully we will someday see more female cosmonauts.

In the 1980's the Soviet system appeared to be self-perpetuating. Arthur Clarke showed his sympathies by naming most of the 2010 cosmonauts after Soviet dissidents. The Russian spacecraft was powered by the Sakharov Drive, invented by the real-life physicist and dissident. Though Clarke let the Soviet Union survive into 2010, he was not a fan of Communism.

This has been a good time to review 2010: ODYSSEY TWO. We are always disappointed that humans have not reached the heights seen in the movies. However science and automated probes have made some unexpected discoveries, including signs of extraterrestrial life. Like the Monolith, seeds of life may even have arrived via meteorites from Space. Our Earth, especially in the role of women, has surpassed the society glimpsed in the movies. The world of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and beyond still inspires us to reach for the stars.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Life From Meteorites?

Two more stories this month added to evidence that life exists elsewhere, and may even have seeded life on Earth via meteorites. From National Geographic:

Life Ingredients Found in Superhot Meteorites—A First

NASA researchers have found traces of amino acids, the building blocks of life, in a meteorite that landed in Sudan during 2008. During its journey to Earth the meteorite was heated to 1100 degrees Celsius. If amino acids can survive such conditions, they may have journeyed here in the past. Instead of originating on Earth, the ingredients for life may have come from elsewhere.

Even Ordinary Microbes May Survive Radiation on Mars

From The P. cryohalolentis microbe, commonly found in permafrost and Antarctic ice, has been found able to repair DNA damage caused by cosmic rays, even in subzero temperatures. Extremes of cold and radiation are found near the surface of Mars. If a common microbe can survive such conditions, similar organisms might survive on Mars. They may even by cousins!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Phobos Eclipse

Merry Christmas!

for those who missed the lunar eclipse this week, here is one more enhanced video from JPL. Martian moon Phobos eclipsed the Sun in November 9, 2010. Humans may someday visit Phobos as a steppinstone to Mars. Their comrades on the surface will see sights like this.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Martian Sunset

Sunset on Mars as we would have seen on November 5, 2010. Some people doubt the wisdom of settling permanently on another world. Some will say it is too dangerous, even suicidal, or just not worth the effort. Seeing this, what no human has seen before, makes it all worthwhile.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010


From the MERIS satellite, the United Kingdom covered in snow. Travellers have been stuck at Heathrow airport up to two days, many sleeping on the floor. At St. Pancras station in London, terminus for the Eurostar, other travellers waited outside in the cold for hours. Some forecasts have the temperature sinking to -26C. These people need to pay more attention to Earth's climate.

The storm approaching California this week. Satellites are so invaluable for weather forecasting that today we take them for granted. Before spaceflight, weather forecasting was far more inexact than today. The billions saved due to weather satellites would probably pay for our entire Space program.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Running Rings Around Inflation

More people are getting tired of old cosmologies. The old inflationary paradigm proposed that the early Universe expanded at warp speed, many times faster than light. The distinguished Roger Penrose of Oxford has long been a critic of inflation. When others claimed that the Cosmic Microwave Background somehow "proves" inflation, Penrose wrote "In my opinion, we must be exceedingly cautious about claims of this kind--even if seemingly supported by high-quality experimental results. These are frequently analysed from the perspective of some fashionable theory." Penrose prefers to work on cyclic cosmologies, where the Universe recycles itself over billions of years.

In November Penrose and Vahe Gurzadyan claimed to have discovered ring formations in the CMB. They interpret these splashes in the cosmic pond as evidence of explosions in a previous Universe. Penrose sees the rings as supporting his cyclic cosmology. Other cosmologists claim that such rings are just the result of events in our own Universe. The controversy shows that not everyone believes in the mainstream cosmology.

More than 30 years after it was first proposed, the inflationary paradigm has not led to a compelling theory. Faster-than-light inflation would violate both the First Law of Thermodynamics (conservation of energy) and Relativity's stipulation that nothing travels faster than light. Inflation can never be proven--no human experiment can time-travel to the first 10^{-33} seconds to observe inflation in action, or even approach the titanic energies so near the Big Bang. The paradigm has created a cottage industry of competing theories, none of which can be proven soon. Physicist Paul Steinhardt, one of inflation's original architects, has abandoned the paradigm and now also works on cyclic cosmologies.

At one time NASA's Beyond Einstein program included an "inflation probe," an unspecified Space experiment to search for inflation's signature. Scientists could not agree what form such an experiment could take. After much argument, Beyond Einstein was concentrated on a Joint Dark Energy Mission, which itself has little chance of ever flying. Ambitious Space experiments involving inflation have led to naught.

In contrast, a cosmology where the speed of light was much faster can be tested today, for it also predicts that c continues to slow. As methods of measurement become more precise, such a surprising prediction can be tested. Experiments showing a c change would be the death knell for the inflationary paradigm. With their idea receding, inflation's proponents are ready to blow up.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The oddly named "flatness problem" doesn't indicate that the Universe is flat like the Earth (they are spherical) but refers to density. If the Universe were too dense, it would collapse under its own gravitation. Somehow it has a critical density $\Omega$ that allows it to expand asymptotically, slowing but never stopping or reversing its expansion. If this density varied even slightly, the imbalance would accumulate and make the Universe unstable. Old models do not solve this mystery.

A cosmology where GM = tc^3 is driven toward the stable density. The difference is made up by you and I, the matter we are made of. When the Universe is "underweight," quantum mechanics predicts that matter will appear via pair production. As we saw in the last post, the amount of this matter is the difference between $\rho$i and $\rho$f, or 4.507034%. This unique prediction is precisely confirmed by the Wilkinson Microwave Anistropy Probe.

In their paper on Time-Varying Speed of Light Albrecht and Maguiejo do not solve the flatness question, but suggest that a varying-c cosmology may someday answer it. Once this paper was published, Albrecht and Maguiejo discovered to their consternation that John Moffat had published a similar paper years earlier. They were all preceded by Thomson (Lord Kelvin) in 1874, so changing c is an old idea. Only in the 20th century, along with communism and fascism, did fixed c become dogma.

From their paper we can use Albrecht and Maguiejo's equation (10). Here R (not a) is scale and e is the deviation from critical density.

e = $\Omega$ - 1

edot = (1 + e)e(Rdot/R)(1 + 3w) + 2(cdot/c)e

Now we have w = 0,

From R=ct and GM=tc^3 we get:

(Rdot/R) = (2/3t) and (cdot/c) = (-1/3t)

edot = (1 + e)e(2/3t)(1 + 3w) + 2(-1/3t)e

edot = e^2 (2/3t)

Is it not reassuring that the other terms cancel? When t is low e is large and a large edot drives density toward a critical value. Today, when t is billions of years and e is very nearly zero, little mass is being created. Just as scale R began in a Bang and has been slowing since, the amount of mass creation has also been slowing and is now nearly zero.

Despite success, some people will act as if this isn't a Theory. It is painful to say that new ideas take time for others to figure out. Papers where c varies (including Albrecht and Maguiejo's) face great difficulties in publishing. Arthur Eddington joked in the 1920's that only 3 people understood Relativity, though he couldn't think of the third one! In the 21st century, we are on the way to solving "flatness" and other problems.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

WMAP Update

Wondrous Kea has suggested comparing predictions of $\Omega_b$ and $\Omega_m$ with the latest WMAP results. Data comes from Spergel et al., Seven-Year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP1) Observations

Our 4-dimensional spherical Space has a finite volume given by:

V = 2 $\pi$^2 R^3

Where R is radius, with dimensions of length. The very gravity which causes Space/Time to be curved would cause the sphere to collapse, unless it were already expanding. We can express the expanding Universe simply:

R = ct

Again R has dimensions of length and c has dimensions of distance/time. For an expanding Universe, it is axiomatic that R is some multiple of t.

The Universe can't expand at the same rate c forever, for gravity slows it down. We do some math and get:

GM = tc^3

Where GM combines mass of the Universe with its gravitational constant.

Together these simple expressions form a solution to the Einstein-Friedmann equations with stable density:

$\rho$f = (6 $\pi$ G t^2)^{-1}

Here we encounter an interesting difference. If an initial mass M is distributed among this spherical volume V, we get an initial density $\rho$i of:

$\rho$i = M/V where M = (tc^3)/G

$\rho$i = (2 $\pi$G t^2)^{-1}

The difference is made up by the matter we are made of. When the Universe is "underweight," quantum mechanics predicts that matter will appear via pair production. The amount of this matter is the difference between $\rho$i and $\rho$f, or 4.507034%.

Prediction: 4.507034%

$\Omega_b$ 4.49 ± 0.28 (Prediction correct within 0.6 standard deviations)

$\Omega_m$ is the amount of "dark " mass. By Theory, this could be made up of microscopic singularities, Black Holes formed shortly after the Big Bang. We can create models to predict how much this would be:

Prediction: 23.87%

$\Omega_m$ 22.2 ± 2.6 (Prediction correct within 0.6 standard deviations)

This also predicts a changing speed of light, which can be seen in Type Ia supernova redshifts and laser ranging of the Moon. Why does this work not get more attention? New ideas, especially ideas ahead of their time, take time to be accepted. The inefficient neural net of humanity contains many old nodes that refuse to accept change. Thanks to talks and this blog, Theory is now known worldwide. The genie has escaped the bottle!

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Dark Stars

Using our Keck Telescope atop Mauna Kea, astronomers have found that elliptical galaxies contain many more red dwarf stars than previously though. Ellipticals are some of the largest galaxies, containing around a trillion stars each. Red dwarfs, being small and dim, are particularly difficult to detect in other galaxies. The new results indicate that the Universe might have 3 times as many stars as previously thought. This affects estimates of how much dark mass is needed to fill the Universe. Galaxies might need less dark stuff than previously thought in order to be stable. CfA Press Release.

A red dwarf could greatly affect life on Earth. In 1984 Richard Muller and others proposed that Nemesis, an unseen companion to our Sun, might cause mass extinctions. By this hypothesis, the unseen Nemesis orbits into the Oort Cloud of comets every 27 million years, causing comets to spiral toward the inner solar system. In 1999 John Matese and Daniel Whitmire, using comet observations, made a similar hypothesis. The hypothetical object could be a brown dwarf, slightly larger than Jupiter, or a larger red dwarf.

The inky black of empty Space is far from empty. Today it is thought to be home many more red dwarf stars than once thought. It could also contain brown dwarfs, objects like Jupiter, in unknown numbers. Potentially Space could also contain primordial Black Holes, some of which form the cores of larger objects. One of these objects, orbiting our Sun, could cause the mass extinctions on Earth. There is far more in the Universe than meets the eye.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Arsenic and Old Life

From my presentation in Buenos Aires: Meteorite ALH84001, in which signs of fossil life were discovered in 1996.

Last Thursday astrobiology researchers working at Mono Lake in California announced discovery of microorganisms that can thrive on arsenic. This discovery could widen the definition of organic chemistry. Other scientists have already questioned these results. The science of astrobiology has long met with skepticism.

In 1996 NASA scientists found signs of fossil life on this meteorite, picked up from Antarctica in 1984. The rock forming ALH84001 is over 3.5 billion years old. Martian life could be very old, possibly predating life on Earth. Fossils from another world may be one of the great scientific finds of our time.

McKay et al proposed that a combination of features in ALH84001 could best be explained by a biogenic hypothesis:

1) Carbonates formed at relatively low temperatures involving water

2) Possible microfossils (biomorphs) simlar to Earthly bacterial forms

3) Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) associated with carbonates

4) Nanophase magnetite (Fe304) similar to that produced by bacteria

From time to time others try to attack these discoveries. Recently a paper claimed that the carbonates could have formed by other means, implying that all the findings are invalid. The most convincing evidence, and subject of the most recent work, is nanophase magnetite. As seen in a microscope, magnetites in ALH84001 form crystalline patterns that could not be formed by simple heating. Such patterns are formed by magnetitic bacteria on Earth.

Science thrives on skepticism, and great discoveries are almost always questioned. Several lines of data still point to life on a Martian meteorite. The question may not be completely settled until we have new samples from Mars. Humans may have discovered what they have long wondered about, life from another world.

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Friday, December 03, 2010

Christmas 911

In the police station, busted while playing a Call Girl again in CHRISTMAS 911, opening onstage near Houston December 3!

How did Dr. Brooke Magnanti (Diary of a Call Girl) do it? In this case, someone started by working a full day at NASA, then hopping on the motorcycle (it's electric) and riding down Highway 3 to the theatre. It's a lovely ride through Texas countryside that many bikers take for fun on weekends. Keeping the local audiences happy makes all the late hours worthwhile.

Outside the make-believe of theatre, some scientists really do prostitute themselves. To get that grant or job they claim belief in strings, inflation, "dark energy" or whatever will get them funding. Where has it led them? This blog has chronicled how "dark energy" has pushed promising ideas and experiments out of the funding line. It has not led to solutions, but a divergence of speculative ideas. The DE experimenters can not even agree on a Space mission concept. Optimistic plans for Joint Dark Energy Missions will never fly because of the mounting costs of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Moral of the story: Despite the promises of a quick buck, scientists should not prostitute themselves. Better to pretend to be a hooker in theatres.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Jets of Divine Dipsomania

2010 photo from the NSF's Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak, Herbig-Haro object HH 555 in the Pelican Nebula. A tiny singularity has collided with a galactic gas cloud, trailing gas like a bullet fired through cotton candy. At the pillar's tip, gas is drawn into a disk which will form a baby star. At the top and bottom are two bright jets spiralling along magnetic field lines. These could be signs of a Black Hole.

Universe Today reports new observations by astronomer Carlos Carrasco-Gonzalez and collaborators using the Very Large Array in New Mexico. Observing Herbig Haro object HH 80-81 in radio frequencies, they discovered the young star giving off synchrotron radiation. This infant star has only 10 times the mass of our Sun, but gives off 17,000 times as much radiation. Such radiation is usually the product of very high temperatures and magnetic fields, such as one would find near a Black Hole.

The Big Bang created billions of tiny singularities, formed from quantum fluctuations grown large by the Universe's expansion. If a Black Hole collided with a dust cloud, it would draw in material but also give off radiation. Material spiraling into the singularity would produce both radiation and a magnetic field, exactly as observed in HH 80-81. A Black Hole could be at home in the centre of stars like our Sun. Carrasco-Gonzalez' observation is a big clue that Black Holes exist in the second last place humans would look, in the centres of stars.

Theories of the Sun have advanced over time. As late as the 1920’s most astronomers would lecture that our Sun was made of iron, and glowed in the sky like a hot poker. Only a young astronomer named Cecilia Payne suggested that the Sun’s spectral lines could be interpreted as hydrogen. Because Payne was a young woman, her idea was roundly dismissed. The equations of nuclear fusion were still being worked out. Payne was a happy and attractive lady, pleased to be ahead of her time.

The reward of the young scientist is to be the first person to see something or to understand something. Nothing can compare with that experience; it engenders what Thomas Huxley called the Divine Dipsomania"--Cecilia Payne

Check out the new Carnival of Space!

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